Skip to main content

Full text of "The History Of Western Education"

See other formats


THE BROADENING OF HUMANISM         223

important is whether he has grown better or wiser; and that is
overlooked. We direct all our efforts to the memory and leave
the understanding and the conscience empty. Like birds which
go forth from time to time to seek for grain and bring it back to
their young in their beaks without tasting it, our pedants go
gathering knowledge from books and never take it further than
their lips before disgorging it. And what is worse, their scholars
and their little ones are no better nourished by it than they are
themselves. It passes from one person to another and only serves
to make a show or to provide entertainment." What wonder is it
that the youth who returns home after spending fifteen or sixteen
years in such vain learning is only more foolish and overbearing
for all his Latin and his Greek ? What he has learned has never
entered into the substance of his life. It has left him devoid of
the power to see things as they are, which is the essence of under-
standing and conscience in their respective spheres.

Towards the end of this Essay on Pedantry, Montaigne cites
Xenophon's account of the education of the Persians as an ad-
mirable illustration of his own ideal. He mentions with approval
the fact that they taught the children right conduct as assiduously
as other nations taught them their letters. " They sought to
reduce education to a minimum," he remarks. " And since at
the most the sciences can only teach prudence, integrity and
determination even when the best methods are employed, they
taught their children from the outset not by hearsay, but by action,
forming and shaping them not so much by words and rules as by
examples and deeds, so that it should not be a case of mere
knowledge in the mind but of habit and bent, not an acquisition
but a natural possession."

In response to the suggestion of a friend who had read this
Essay, Montaigne developed his ideas about education, in a
further Essay On the Upbringing of Children. In this Essay, as.
indeed in all his Essays, it is his personal experience on which
he bases his opinions. As his own education (to which he makes
lengthy reference) was a somewhat singular one, his exposition is
best understood in the light of it. His father had lived in Italy
in his youth, and though not a scholar himself, had brought back
from it an appreciation of learning and of mental independence.
When Michel, his first son, was born, he sent him to be nursed
in a remote country village so that the child might learn frugality